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Eritrea, 13 July 2015: Supporting a community and saving lives

© UNICEF Eritrea/2015/Thompson
Desale and her baby Nahir (left) and Freweini (right), community health worker in Serejeka community.

By Charlene Thompson

SEREJEKA, Eritrea, 13 July 2015 – The staff of the Serejeka Health Facility warmly greet community health volunteer, Freweini. While she does not work at the Health Facility – instead she covers an entire community visiting each house providing healthcare to children – she is a very familiar face.

“Freweini comes with all the children and mothers she refers to the health facility,” said Nurse Lemlem who works in the Serejeka Health Facility and knows Freweini well. “She follows the progress of all the children and mothers she refers to the health facility and she knows them all by name. She is very interested in their health and progress.”

Freweini Zakarias has been a community health volunteer in the community of Serejeka for the past 13 years. She was selected by her community members to be a volunteer and she spends much of her day walking the length and breadth of her community, visiting homes, checking on children and offering advice and support to families. It was during one of these visits a few months ago that she referred and accompanied her neighbour and the neighbour’s son to the Nutrition Ward of the Serejeka Health Facility.

When Freweini visited Desale and performed a MUAC screening on her almost two-year old son Nahir, the screening revealed the child was severely malnourished. Freweini referred the child to the Serejeka Health Facility. When the child arrived at the health facility and the nurses did additional screening, his diagnosis of severe malnutrition was confirmed and the nurses prescribed Plumpy’Nut, a ready to use high calorie therapeutic food. His mother had to give him two sachets of Plumpy’Nut per day and every week when she returned to the health facility, she had to bring the empty packets as proof that the child had completed the week’s treatment.

Throughout this time and even today, Freweini follows the child and continues to check on him and his wellbeing. Little Nahir is now 21 months and his mother, in addition to breast feeding him, is introducing him to complementary foods. ‘She [Freweini] gives me good advice on foods I should give him – a mixture of cereals, legumes and she tells me how to prepare it,” Desale said.

Freweini is one of three health volunteers in the Serejeka community and one of 3,000 community health volunteers nationwide. Community health workers support the implementation of the Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) Programme of the Ministry of Health in partnership with UNICEF. Through this Programme, community health volunteers are trained to screen children under five years for malnutrition using the Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) measurement. They are also trained, among other things, in infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices and therefore advise and guide mothers and caregivers on breastfeeding, nutrition and complementary foods to support the healthy growth of children. IYCF interventions are key in the efforts to improve survival, growth, and development of children in Eritrea. Community health volunteers are instrumental to Eritrea’s successful progress in achieving MDGs 4 (reducing child mortality) and 5 (improving maternal health).

“To a mother or someone not trained, malnutrition is not visible,” said Lemlem, a nurse at the Serejeka Health Facility. “Community health volunteers like Freweini who go from house to house can spot complications early and therefore start to tackle the problem immediately. Volunteers like Freweini reduce our workload at the health facility,” she said quickly adding “they [community volunteers] are so helpful to us.”

Desale says that Nahir improved very quickly once he started taking Plumpy’Nut and when she started to breastfeed and give him complementary foods. “He has improved so much. His health is good, his appearance is good and he is now walking,” the mother said. “I was very worried when he was first born. I did not think he would live and it is because of Freweini he has survived.”

Freweini who is a mother of six says she volunteers her time to do this work because “when you see a child who has recovered, you feel good and you see why this work is important.” It’s therefore no surprise to hear a mother from the community refer to Freweini as “a mother of mothers.”

 

 
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